As we continue to watch the track of Hurricane Irma, we are being surrounded by prayers and support from throughout the ELCA. The synod office has received numerous calls and messages from synod staff, pastors, and bishops throughout the church who are holding us and our companion churches in prayer in these days. Many congregations are ready to respond and support those affected by Hurricane Irma however they can.
Specifically, the Southeast Synod will be providing us a list of congregations in the areas around Atlanta, GA, Birmingham, AL and Nashville, TN who are willing to host those who may need to evacuate. That list will be shared on the home page of the Florida-Bahamas synod web site and on our Facebook page as it becomes available. We give thanks for our community in Christ who are surrounding us with prayer and support.
Assistant to the Bishop Michele Hilton has been on conference calls with the Florida VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters)- all state, federal, inter-faith and non-profit agencies are as deployed and prepared as they can be. She has also been in good communication with Lutheran Disaster Response in Chicago. They are ready to support us however we need it, and we are already coordinating a joint prayer service between the chapel in the Synod House and the chapel in the ELCA Churchwide office in Chicago for the days ahead. We will share information about that as it becomes available.
It looks like Hurricane Irma will most directly impact Florida on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The Synod House will be CLOSED on Monday. Synod staff will remain available throughout the weekend.
A donation link has been set up on the home page of the synod web site. Donations made to the synod-wide disaster response fund are used 100% for needs caused by disasters. This is also the fund through which we can support our companion churches who may be impacted. Designated donations to “Hurricane Irma disaster response” can be mailed to the synod office (3838 W. Cypress St, Tampa, FL 33607). More information about donations is available on the web site.
Please stay attentive to information from local agencies regarding conditions and plans for your area.
Many congregations are cancelling worship and other events this weekend. Pay close attention to information coming from your congregational leadership. A Liturgy in the Time of Storm service has been created for those who may want to gather with family and friends during this storm.
As the body of Christ, we stand together in times of joy and in times of struggle. This weekend, know that you are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who are praying for and supporting you. As Saint Paul writes, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 45)
I have always been a little uncomfortable when I hear someone referring to a natural disaster as an “Act of God.” Of course it is a legal term, meaning a natural disaster outside human control. God doesn’t need me as a defender, but when people refer to a flood or an earthquake as an “Act of God,” I want to blurt out: “Don’t blame God for this!” There is a human tendency, especially among religious folks, to suggest that anything tragic or unimaginable must be God’s will. Great damage has been done to people’s faith when they are told that a loved one’s murder must have been God’s will. Rather than giving comfort, it frequently drives people away. Who wants to believe in a God who allows, even delights in the suffering of innocents?
Natural disasters abound, both in the United States, and across the globe. Right now the ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response is active in:
AMMPARO: Protecting Migrant Minors
Closer to home, the Montana VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster), chaired by LPA Dick Deschamps, has been keeping close watch on the Montana fires, from the range fires in the eastern part of the state to the forest fires in the west. We have also been in conversation with synods in North and South Dakota, and with ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response about drought and possible donations of hay from the Midwest. The Montana Synod maintains a disaster fund, available to those experiencing disaster. It is made up entirely of congregational and individual contributions. You can send checks to our office, 3125 5th Ave. S., Great Falls, MT 59405, with “Disaster” written on them.
If Montana and other states in the west are too dry, Texas and its neighboring states are too wet, as they suffer the havoc wreaked by powerful Hurricane Harvey. ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response is already helping. They send this message to all of us:
“Lutheran Disaster Response’s affiliate is actively present, collaborating with community leaders and officials to initiate the proper responses, particularly the long-term recovery efforts. Together we have a strong history of working with disasters in the Gulf Coast area. Recovery effort are expected to take years, and Lutheran Disaster Response will be there to accompany those affected through every phase of this disaster.”
- First, pray.
- Second, help share information through bulletin inserts (available at elca.org)
- Third, give to Lutheran Disaster Response. If you write “Hurricane Relief-United States” 100% of your gift will go to this disaster. Or you can give locally to the Montana Synod Disaster Fund, 3125 5th Avenue South, Great Falls, MT 59405-3337.
- Fourth, do not organize in-gatherings of anything. Right now money is needed. Donations of items are more of a burden than a help.
- Fifth, do not self-deploy. When volunteers are needed, you can sign up with a reputable group.
Early Christians in Rome stayed around the city to care for the sick when everyone else who could do so fled. I am grateful that our church has maintained that tradition of care for those in need. I believe in a God who understands human suffering, and who sends us out to respond.
“In my distress I called on the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18: 6)
Houston, Texas 77060-1243
There will be volunteer opportunities for sometime to come, but now is critical. Mold will settle in soon. Later reconstruction will require professional contractors. Cleaning out houses (mucking) is something unskilled volunteers can do. We have a coordinated workday on September 9, launching from five sites. Many groups will be going out before and after that.
3. Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe Texas can sleep up to 40 people on cots and mattresses. (936) 539-9530 or treechurch.net.
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
We can be thankful that the damage to homes and churches through the Bluebonnet and Gulf Coast Conferences, where Hurricane Harvey came ashore, have mostly minor damage. However, most evacuated and are just now returning home. All pastoral staffs are well and no injuries have been incurred. Electricity, water, sewer is not available everywhere. Below are a few we followed-up with today as well as an update from Disaster Response. Please continue to remember them in prayer and our brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast Synod.